51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them[a]?’ 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’
58 Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
59 He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’
But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’
60 Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’
61 Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’
62 Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’
It’s sunrise on a cold clear, still winters morning. You are all kitted up for the next row of pruning. You are determined to get to the end of the row today. You “set your face” toward the end of that long row. It takes determination.
Maybe not at first. It is clear and calm, and the sun hits your face. You have had a good night’s sleep. It starts well. But by 1pm, when the cold clouds cover the sun and the wind chill factor increases, and the wet stuff begins to fall just a little bit sideways, and you are beginning to feel the effects of 5-6 hours work already, you will need that determination.
This is a picture of life. Determination is needed for this job, any job, any relationship; for life itself.
Jesus knows this. “Follow me”, he calls. “Put your hand to that plough. Don’t look back or away”.
Jesus uses ploughing to describe what it is to follow him.
Like pruning, ploughing needs determination. Those furrows have to be straight, together and deep. Determination and concentration are required – especially if you are not sitting high up in your heated cab with the GPS taking care of the business as you enjoy the sounds of the footy coming out of your stereo!
This is ploughing with one disk or prong and a horse or donkey. If you take your eyes off the ground ahead or the horse or the plough for a second, the furrow will not be straight enough or deep enough. Every shallow, crooked furrow is less productive. If you let go of the plough, there is zero productivity.
There is no room for looking back or away. You either follow or you don’t, Jesus says. Looking back or away will undo everything; limit the productivity of good fruit.
So, how do you follow him like you might prune or plough? How are you following at the moment?
I don’t do so well. My mind wonders. I am distracted by many things. I have pressing concerns of body, family, work, inner need. I am so human!
I can be two faced. I look to Jesus, I seek his Word and his community but then I look away for direction and guidance; what feels good, what is socially acceptable, what pleases my parents or mentors – living or dead, what pleases my friends or those I want to have as fiends.
And this is true both when the day is going swimmingly well (I take the credit for that) and when the day is not going well at all (I blame God for that).
I try. I fail, I make my excuses, I justify my needs and my sin and my chasing after the wind and he tells me square: “No one who does not give themselves and their all with singular focus to my direction and purpose is not fit for my purposes, my calling, my work of making my new creation dawn here in this old one.
So, I am not fit.
Maybe this is you too?
Maybe this is not you. Maybe you’re the Samaritan who doesn’t want a bar of this Jesus calling; this Jewish or Christian story. Like that Samaritan community Jesus and his followers came across on their way to Jerusalem who rejected Jesus outright because of all their baggage about Jerusalem and history and war and politics and ethnic hatred etc. You just don’t want to be associated with all of that.
Maybe you are James and John who respond to this disrespect to Jesus by doing an Elijah (2 Kings 1:9-12); calling down fire on these disrespectful ignorant half-breeds! Some Church folks wouldn’t mind that approach to unbelievers. We hear it today. We might even sometimes wish this was how the Lord would act.
No way here, though. Jesus gets stuck into James and John and simply tells them to grab the plough again and keep moving along the furrow with him to the next town. This is the way people of the gospel approach those who are rejecting Jesus: keep going to them…… Leave the fiery flames to God!
What is our hope for following faithfully, if you want to still do that?
I say “If”, because that is what Jesus is asking of us today.
Following costs you. It requires a willing detachment from housing, cars, stuff – a determination inside, to not place my trust for stability and purpose in these things or in only my family, or myself.
It costs you family commitments and connection (Let the dead bury their own dead; don’t go and say goodbye to family) and requires even a certain disregard for social responsibilities and expectations.
Why follow him? Why pay the price and be so determined?
For me, it is all in that first sentence.
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. (9:51)
- All this following leads somewhere good – good for me and good for this troubled world (Ascension).
- Jesus was determined more than I ever could be to find me and call me.
All my worries about feeling “unfit’ for the job; not being determined enough, successful enough, focussed enough, and not being able to pay the price of following Jesus fade into the distance as I ponder him paying the considerably higher price to ascend to rule over this world and rule over me – not in fiery anger, but in pure gracious acceptance of me – Yes, me, and all the “Samaritans”, the sinners, the “lost”, the “undetermined” and “unfit”.
He was so determined for me! This sentence in Luke’s account is often called the turning point. From here on those first days of mass support and miracles and grassy slopes for bread and fish are over. The journey has taken a darker direction.
Jesus ‘sets his face” to “Jerusalem” – “the city who kills the prophets and rejects those whom the Lord sends” (Luke 13:34). He ‘sets his face’ to this place of all places like the person pruning or ploughing into the wind and rain. He is immovable, unshakable.
A whole town or people rejecting his call will not stop him (Samaritans).
His own followers bent on power and influence by power, and even destruction or people and property in mad payback, to “teach them a lesson” will not stop him.
The waiting darkness, dying, misunderstanding, and all those politics of powerful men plotting in the shadows will not stop him.
Even one of his own sealing his fate in betrayal will not stop his journey to Jerusalem and its death, but then that magnificent ascension to rule his new creation in grace.
Why was he so determined?
It has to be love, doesn’t it?
This is Jesus. His love is pure. His love is long. His love is determined, and it will drive him through all the suffering and high cost to ensure that you and I got to hear his call and “be his own” and “live under him in holiness, innocence and blessedness” (Small Catechism).
So, why do I follow.
Because he is love and he is life. He does not just call us to follow him to a place where we get these things one day. He is the thing today! He does not just point us to life or bread or hope or forgiveness or renewal, he IS all of these now.
So, following him is not slavery, it is life because he is life. It is begun in your baptismal life and will end there in Christ. Following is life.
Following him is not earning love it is him loving you.
Following is not founded on what you are doing to win God’s favour, it is God favouring you, loving you and including you in his rule, his work, his future of grace to win others. “Follow me” is a gift more than a command with Jesus.
Friend, Jesus is determined to love you, whether you view yourself as ‘unfit’ or too fit. He is determined to love all the others through you – the rejecting Samaritans, the power hungry Christians, the indifferent, the weak, the mighty.
He calls you to the end of the row, the end of the furrow, to take that plough and keep moving toward his big end game; his big wide, wonderful kingdom of grace that truly transforms the world one person at a time.
Why else do you plough? Why else would you prune? Why else would you love, serve, give and truly live?
Follow him. He is life. He is love.